Category Archives: Politics

Economics of the Ukrainian Crisis

With Russian on the march in Crimea, NPR’s Planet Money podcast recently discussed the economics of the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine and the role natural gas plays in the dispute.

Here is a description of the podcast from the Planet Money Blog:

On today’s show, how a policy that made natural gas very cheap for every household in Ukraine almost bankrupted the nation. And how that led, in part, to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

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March 20, 2014 · 5:45 pm

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Speech At Syracuse University

Recently, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University as part of the State of Democracy Lecture series.

Here is a description of the talk:
Gillibrand’s talk, “The American Opportunity Agenda,” addressed proposals to help more middle-class women workers gain financial security by modernizing America’s outdated workplace policies.

Gillibrand was first sworn in as U.S. senator from New York in January 2009. Prior to her service in the Senate, she served in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing 10 counties in upstate New York’s 20th congressional district. She serves on the Senate agriculture, armed services, and aging committees.

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February 5, 2014 · 5:13 pm

Will Lobbying Destroy the American Empire?

Recently, Fareed Zakaria began his Sunday show discussing the deleterious influences of lobbyist on American politics.  

Here are the basics of “Fareed’s Take”

The entire political system creates incentives for venality. Consider just one factor – and there are many – the role of money, which has expanded dramatically over the past four decades. Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig has pointed out that Congressmen now spend three of every five workdays raising money. They also vote with extreme attention to their donors’ interests. Lessig cites studies that demonstrate that donors get a big bang for their campaign bucks – sometimes with returns on their “investment” that would make a venture capital firm proud.

Now, taking money out of politics is a mammoth challenge. So perhaps the best one could hope for is to limit instead what Congress can sell. In other words, enact a thorough reform of the tax code, ridding it of the thousands of special exemptions, credits, and deductions, which are, of course, institutionalized, legalized corruption.

The most depressing aspect of This Town, by Mark Leibovich, is how utterly routine all the influence-peddling has become. In 1990 Ramsay MacMullen, the great Yale historian of Rome, published a book that took on the central question of his field: Why did the greatest empire in the history of the world collapse in the fifth century? The root cause, he explained, was political corruption, which had become systemic in the late Roman Empire. What was once immoral had become accepted as standard practice and what was once illegal was celebrated as the new normal. Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source.

Watch the video for the full take and read more in the Washington Post


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August 6, 2013 · 9:09 pm

Planet Money: “Schoolhouse Rock Is A Lie”

NPR’s Planet Money podcast recently reran an episode titled: “School House Rock Is A Lie (Or, How The Filibuster Ate Washington.)” As the Senate debates filabuster reform, this entertaining story is worth a listen.

Here is a description of the podcast:

On our show today, we tell you everything you need to know about the filibuster, including:

  • What Schoolhouse Rock didn’t tell us
  • Why Aaron Burr and Jimmy Stewart are the two great villains in filibuster history
  • How Senators can now filibuster bills without having to talk for hours on end


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July 24, 2013 · 8:31 pm

“Cutting The Pentagon’s Budget Is A Gift To Our Enemies”

That was the proposition being debated on the NPR’s Intelligence Squared. Moderated by 

ABC News’ John Donvan, this debate featured Thomas Donnelly–Co-Director, Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, AEI–and Andrew Krepinevich–President, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who argued for the motion; and Benjamin Friedman–Research Fellow, Cato Institute–and Kori Schake–Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, who argued against it.  

Here is description of the debate: 

Political gridlock in Washington triggered across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, in March. As a result, the Pentagon was given six months to eliminate $41 billion from the current year’s budget, and unlike past cuts, this time everything is on the table. In 2011, America spent $711 billion dollars on its defense—more than the next 13 highest spending countries combined. But the burdens it shoulders, both at home and abroad, are unprecedented. Could the sequester be a rare opportunity to overhaul the armed forces, or will its impact damage military readiness and endanger national security?

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July 13, 2013 · 3:19 pm

The Virtue of Government Transparency

In the wake of the NSA-Eric Snowden leak, the BBC’s Moral Maze programme debated the virtue of government transparency and its limits.  

Here is a description of the debate: 

The 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon is widely credited with coining the phrase “knowledge is power”. If he was alive today he would surely have appreciated the irony of the government this week launching its consultation on transparency and open data while the news is full of stories about spying and under cover surveillance. The goal of “transparency” has become something of mantra across a wide section of our society. It is held up as a moral virtue; an unambiguously Good Thing that should be pursued at all costs. Vascular surgeons are the latest to have the “spotlight” of transparency shone upon them. The NHS is publishing league tables of their results and doctors who refuse to co-operate will be named and shamed. Transparency has become not just a descriptive term, but an ideology – something that should be actively strived for and is a fundamental human right that underpins democracy. But by investing so much moral capital in transparency have we done the opposite of what those who champion it wanted? Instead of a more trusting society, do we now automatically assume that what goes on behind closed doors is not to be trusted and always capable of being corrupted? Is the CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden a hero who’s exposed the scale of state surveillance on its citizens, or a traitor who has undermined our capacity to fight terrorism? In an age when digital data about every aspect of our life is so easy to generate, how much of a right do “they” have to know about us and how much of a right do we have to know about “them?” Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips, Anne McElvoy and Kenan Malik. Witnesses: David Leigh – The Guardian’s investigations editor until 2013, and professor of journalism at City University, London UK, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones – Former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Professor Gwythian Prins – Visiting professor of War Studies Buckingham University and member of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, Shami Chakrabarti – Director of Liberty.

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July 10, 2013 · 4:46 pm

Fareed Zakaria on Snowden, Civil Disobedience, and Big Data

On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria GPS began with “Fareed’s Take” on NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Civil Disobedience, and the civil liberties implications of Big Data.

Here is a description of the commentary:

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

That was Martin Luther King Jr.’s definition of civil disobedience. It does not appear to be Edward Snowden’s.

He has tried by every method possible to escape any judgment or punishment for his actions. Snowden has been compared to Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. But Ellsberg did not hop on a plane to Hong Kong or Moscow once he had unloaded his cache of documents. He stood trial and faced the possibility of more than 100 years in prison before the court dismissed the case against him because of the prosecution’s mistakes and abuses of justice.

For more on this read Fareed’s TIME column

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July 3, 2013 · 10:18 am